I don’t even! Know! Where to begin. Half of me feels very centered and calm, like I could die because life has given me its greatest gift: seeing Hamilton on Broadway with its original cast. The other half of me wants to spin in circles shouting into the sky because life has given me its greatest gift: seeing Hamilton on Broadway with its original cast.
Our hotel is a three minute walk (turn right on 46th) from Richard Rodgers Theatre, so it was a Hamilton kind of day. We walked past at noon, and I tried to control an intense wave of envy when we saw the lucky 21 lottery winners who would be seeing the matinee in just two hours. But we had back-row seats for the night’s performance, so I swallowed my jealousy and followed my mom around other, less important areas of New York City.
We were back at the theater at 4:30. I wanted to be early for #ham4ham, which began at 5:55. Ridiculously early, but serendipitous. I asked a woman standing by a barricade if she was in line for the lottery, and she said no, the matinee was about to let out, and this was where the cast came out to sign autographs. “Okay then,” I said, claiming a front row spot in front of the door.
Christopher Jackson and Phillipa Woo (George Washington and Eliza Hamilton, respectively) came out, and everyone screamed a little bit. George Washington gave out his autograph to everyone around me before pausing to mess with his Apple watch for what felt like five hours. Was he purposefully ignoring me!? But then he looked up into my eyes, said, “Hi, how are you doing?” and I fell in love with our nation’s first president.
It was after 5:30 by this point, so we hurried away from the stage door to get in line for the lottery, but….we were 700 people too late. I stopped mid-run, said, “Let’s get in line for #ham4ham instead,” and we wound up in the fourth row in front of the main doors. At 5:55, Lin-Manuel Miranda himself came outside to deafening cheers. He introduced Billy Porter as today’s special guest, who sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” while Miranda leaned against the door jamb and smiled with heart eyes.
Mom and I ducked out before they called the lottery winners so we could go back to the hotel and eat a quick dinner. Soon enough we were back at the theatre, standing in line once again, this time to enter heaven through the golden gates (of silhouettes).
Okay, this is it. This is the part of the blog where I describe how listening to Hamilton is amazing, but seeing it in person is next-level ecstasy. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a beloved musical in its first run, with its original cast, in the same city it so proudly sings about: “the greatest city in the world.”
Granted, there was the initial awkwardness of thinking, “But that’s not the exact inflection you used on the album,” but I got over that so quickly because who even cared? This was better. Not even our back row seats (okay, third from the back) deterred from the awesomeness.
Half the awesome was due to being surrounded by Hamilton fans. As promised, the theatre was sold out. When Lin-Manuel bursts onto the stage in response to the first song’s question: “What’s your name, man?” and calmly said “Alexander Hamilton,” the room lost its damn mind. Everyone cheered so long they had to pause the show. And that was not the last time. The showrunners have apparently gotten good at knowing which lines will get applause and/or laughter, because they gave us some breathing room after Lafeyette and Hamilton high-fived and sang, “Immigrants, we get the job done!” to let us shout our approval. They also gave us a lot of leeway with King George.
Let’s talk about King George (she said wistfully, with heart eyes). HE IS PERFECTION. Jonathan Groff (of Glee etc. fame) plays the preening, selfish king with so much hilarity. Groff actually took a couple months off playing the character so he could film a movie, but he came back LAST WEEK, THANK ALL THE STARS.
King George’s songs were already favorites after listening to the album, but in person, they were 20x better. In his first song, before the revolution, he strides out regally, weighed down with crown and robe and importance. He sings the whole thing absolutely still until the last “da da da da die, da…” when his shoulders start dancing, and the whole room exploded with laughter, growing when he demanded “Everybody” and the background ensemble jumped to obey his order. During his second song, after he’s lost the war, and he drags his scepter behind him dejectedly. Red light highlights him, and when he sings, “I’m so blue,” he stomps his foot and the light changes to blue. During his third song, after Washington steps down, he’s got some of his pep back, and oh my gosh, his cackle before wishing John Adams well was the funniest thing I’ve every heard.
AND NOW SECRETS. Because that is not the end of King George!! A bit later, when George’s wishes have come true and America’s founding fathers are at each others throats, and Hamilton’s career is crashing around him during “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” everyone is throwing papers at Hamilton. And then out comes King George, who does an absolutely ridiculous shimmy dance, flounces over to Hamilton and cheekily hands him one last letter of condemnation. Utter perfection, I love him, the end.
Let’s leave the funny behind and talk about sad. Philip dying was excruciating, mostly because Eliza shrieked in agony, which was new and extremely upsetting. Hamilton’s death was handled so beautifully and tragically, and I guess this is a good time to mention that Leslie Odom is an AMAZING Aaron Burr. Oh, and DAVEED DIGGS! He slays as Lafeyette, and impossibly, is even more entertaining as Thomas Jefferson. And Angelica!! The way they did the “Satisfied” flashback to “Helpless” was even more seamless than I imagined.
This seems like a good time to talk about race, since Angelica, Jefferson, and Burr are all played by black actors! In fact, while we were waiting for autographs before the show, every time we peeped someone through the door and were disappointed, the girl next to me said, “It’s obvious they’re not in the cast, because they’re white.” Which is so true! I think Eliza and King George are the only people in the main cast who are white (and Eliza is played by woman who is actually half Caucasian/half Asian). One scene in particular caught my attention, when George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Aaron Burr were alone onstage. All played by black men. IT WAS SO AWESOME.
I’m totally in love with Miranda’s idea of telling the story of America’s past with America’s present. It wasn’t even slightly disorienting to have people of color representing our white founding fathers (or portraying three sisters as white, black, and Hispanic). Oh, and added to this awesome diversity, the ensemble was half men and half women, and both groups participated in the war scenes, and it just. Was amazing. It felt so easy, and it made me wonder why this is so rare in most media? It highlighted the importance of story, and of finding the best talent for the role, letting the character matter more than the skin they’re wearing.
That’s getting too deep! Back to HOW AMAZING EVERYTHING WAS, and how we hurried out of the theatre to stand back by the staff door. I was in the second row, this time. When some lucky people got ushered inside to go backstage, a girl next to me sang, “It must be nice, it must be ni-ice” and I burst out laughing, so we became friends.
AND THEN JONATHAN GROFF AKA KING GEORGE CAME OUT, and he signed my playbill, and I said, “I’ll just repeat everyone else and say you were fantastic,” and he chuckled softly, looked into my soul with his beautiful eyes, and said, “Thank you.”
AND THEN EVERYONE ELSE CAME OUT! Anthony Ramos, who plays Laurens, and Renee Goldsberg, who plays the fabulous Angelica, AND LIN MANUEL HIMSELF, Hamilton in the flesh, the man who spent six years writing a hugely successful play but is still humble and sweet, and I said, “You were wonderful” and we made eye contact and he said thanks, and I will cherish our human interaction for the rest of my life.
Wow, guys. It was awesome. Hamilton is still the most amazing thing on the planet. As soon as the immediate standing ovation quieted, I turned to mom and said, “We have to win the lottery and see this again.”
I don’t think we will or anything, but that’s okay, because I will cherish the memories, and the songs, and remember “how lucky I am to be alive right now.”